Brand new me, brand new cookie

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BSMbanner_baked-150Miss me?  Truly, it hasn’t escaped my own notice that it has been nearly 2 months since I wrote my last blog, around the start of June.  Never fear: I haven’t decided to call it quits completely, but there have been some pretty positive – and even somewhat drastic – changes in my life.  And much less sugar.  *GASP!*  Here’s why…

I’ve been (working on) eating better.

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Proof is in the picture: me at my heaviest in 12/2012 (left), down 13 lbs. (center), currently down 20 (right).

Yes, you certainly read that right. Honestly – I hit a wall.  I was not feeling the greatest, I suffered from some odd panic-like attacks, and I detested how I looked in photos – definitely pudgier, rounder, and pasty-looking in complexion. I decided it was time for a change.  I revamped my My Fitness Pal profile online, set some (realistic) weight loss goals, bought a good pair of running/walking shoes, and started committing myself to exercising daily (namely, just walking for now – baby steps).

The result?  In about 2 months, I am down about 20 pounds – 3 pounds from my goal weight.

Needless to say, I am feeling much better, eating more consciously, and when I go a day without some sort of exercise, I almost feel a touch guilty.  I never thought I would say those words.

Eating better includes cutting down on sugar intake, naturally, so my baking has had to go by the wayside in a big way.  Over time, I’ve found that I crave sugar less!  That being admitted – no worries, Neufangled Desserts fans, I have not dissolved completely.  My resolution is to do one or more of several things when I bake:

1. Make less of the recipe.

2. Figure out some healthy ingredient substitutions.  This is a major challenge and one that, I confess, I am hesitant to tackle until I have some better baking know-how.  I strongly believe in using all the correct ingredients called for in a recipe, and baking doesn’t often leave much room for good substitution; it’s almost an exact science in a lot of ways.  However, it’s also been eye-opening to find out how many calories are in a baked good.  I mean, come on… 350 calories in a simple, small piece of banana bread???!!! You gotta be kidding me! (Sadly, nope.)

3. Give away a good 95% of the yield of whatever I bake (another tough thing to do – especially if it’s so damn good, or if there is no ready occasion for which to bake!)

I had #3 in mind when I initially tackled this week’s assignment via Baked Sunday Mornings: Baked’s Lime Tarragon Cookies with White Chocolate Topping.  I decided to make these cookies for a get-together with friends on the 4th of July.

IMG_1198The dough for these cookies is fairly easy to whip together in a mixer, and contains relatively few ingredients: butter, confectioners’ sugar, light brown sugar, salt, lime zest, lime juice, finely-chopped fresh tarragon, and flour.  With the exclusion of eggs and the use of confectioners’ sugar over granulated, these cookies turn out to have an interesting texture – almost crumbly and dry like a shortbread, but surprisingly a little chewy and tender.  Prior to baking they are chilled in the refrigerator for at least an hour to maintain their nice, round shape when baking.  I would advise sticking to an hour or two for your chilling period; I chilled my dough overnight and it was rock-solid.  If you’re itching and impatient to get these babies in the oven. waiting for a lump of extremely cold dough to be manageable can be a beast.  The dough is already fairly firm and easy to shape without too much excess chill.

After baking and cooling, the final touch to these cookies is a thin glaze of melted white chocolate on top, garnished with only a few long, thin strands or spirals of lime zest.  I found that I needed to add a touch of cream to my white chocolate as I melted it, to make it a thinner consistency for spreading on the cookies.  In keeping with my trimming-down goals, I was initially pleased to see the recipe yielded only a dozen cookies, but imagine my chagrin when I came up with about 18 in my batch (give ’em away, Mark, give ’em away…)!

IMG_1212I have to confess, these cookies just didn’t do much for me – and judging from the reactions of my friends I shared them with, they weren’t too much of a hit with them either.  While I enjoyed the slightly buttery, pleasant texture of the cookie, the hint of tarragon was still too strong, and it competed harshly with the delicacy of the lime.  Some folks might like this combination; I just didn’t.  While I don’t mind tarragon, as a rule, in a savory dish, it held no appeal for me in a sweet treat.  The licorice (read: ICK) flavor still cut through all the other flavors in the cookie, and were I to stay true to this recipe in making it again, I might cut the fresh tarragon down to a 1/2 teaspoon.  Indeed, Matt Lewis – in the recipe preface – invites tweaking the amount of tarragon to your taste when making this recipe, but he also strongly urges us to not omit it altogether.

Well… this weekend, I did attempt making these again, and I’m afraid I will need to beg Matt’s forgiveness: I had to remove the tarragon.  It just didn’t work for me.

IMG_1298While I’m not a fan of gimmicky recipes baked upon other desserts, I decided to put a ‘key lime pie’ twist on these cookies.  The tarragon now out of the picture, I proceeded with making the recipe as is.  I loved the idea of the white chocolate with the lime, but instead of icing the cookies with melted white chocolate (which is sometimes a touchy, sticky hassle), I folded white chocolate chips into the batter prior to baking the cookies off.  I chilled the batter as directed, then used an small cookie scoop to scoop out chilled balls of cookie dough, rolling them gently between my palms and finally tossing them around in some finely ground graham-cracker crumbs for a finishing touch.  I finished the cookies by baking them off as the recipe directs.

IMG_1300I’m always wary of making my own little spin on recipes, as the results can be almost mixed to just downright disastrous (read #2 above about needing a little more scientific know-how with baking).  My ‘key lime pie’ cookie experiment, however, was a sweet surprise!  While maybe not as visually pretty as the tarragon lime cookies, the lime flavor in these shines through in the cookies, with the subtle, sweet milkiness of the white chocolate chips adding a pleasant contrast.  The dusting of graham cracker crumbs over the cookies comes out of the oven almost toasted and golden, adding another level of flavor and upping the ‘key lime pie’ factor.

IMG_1303I didn’t totally dislike Baked’s tarragon lime cookies, but I definitely had a preference for these new little gems I spun out of the original recipe.  If you’re not too big a tarragon fan yourself and a lime cookie just sounds too irresistible, try my fun take on these citrus-infused cookies (*see note below)… or get to chopping up that fresh tarragon yourself and give Baked’s recipe a whirl.  Or divide your dough, make both, have a taste test and let me know what you think!  A link to the recipe, and to see how the other Baked Sunday Mornings fared, is below:

Lime Tarragon Cookies with White Chocolate Topping

Thanks for your patience with me as I’ve been getting my healthy life in order!  Though I am definitely baking less, I will do my very best to continue blogging.  Now, if you’ll excuse me, it’s time to put on my walking sneakers and hit the pavement to burn off some of the calories from these cookies!

* To make Key Lime Pie White Chocolate Chip Cookies:  Omit the fresh tarragon.  After adding the flour, stir in about 3/4 to 1 cup white chocolate chips (you don’t want too much white chocolate, but not too little either).  Chill the dough, then roll them into pretty decent-sized balls between your palms, and toss them into a bowl of finely-ground graham cracker crumbs.  Press the crumbs gently into the cookie dough balls while rolling them around, then place on the cookie sheet and bake as directed (an extra little pinch of graham cracker crumbs on top of each cookie before baking can’t hurt either!).

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10 thoughts on “Brand new me, brand new cookie

  1. Congrats on the healthy lifestyle and weight loss! I too have taken up a healthier lifestyle recently and find that I’m baking and blogging less but it’s totally worth it, isn’t it?

    Love your version of the cookie – they look wonderful!

  2. Congratulations on the healthy living and weight loss. It really can be eye opening how many calories are in certain foods. I’ve been reading the book, ‘Salt, Sugar and Fat’ and have been astounded and horrified by it.
    Your riff on these cookies looks great. Almost like little pastry puffs.

  3. I will never understand how guys can lose 20 pounds in two months– so happy for you, Mark. I really like your twist on these cookies– they sound great! Also, beautiful job of styling your top photo with the limes and tarragon, even if you weren’t crazy about the cookies. :)

    1. Tarragon is an acquired taste. It does have licorice flavor notes. I grew up using distinct and strong spices. One of my grandmother’s cookies uses lemon zest and crushed fennel seed. I like the sweet taste of fennel. I often substitute fennel seed for tarragon. Just a thought.

      And I agree Dafna, guys lose so much faster. And then there is the “over 50” factor. Ugh. I willing forever be chugging along. Mark lost 3 pounds to my 1. :-(

  4. What a great idea with the key lime variation! And congrats on sticking to your new lifestyle. I usually try to take my baked treats to work, otherwise I find that I can quite easily over enjoy, especially if the dessert involves chocolate!

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